Mentoring allows employees to reach their highest potential. Plus, it fosters stronger engagement and a better employee experience. In the past, though, mentorship happened more by chance than by design. In other words, organizations didn’t have a formal mentorship program.
But when every employee has a mentor, the whole organization benefits. That’s why 84% of Fortune 500 companies have formal mentoring programs.
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What Is A Mentorship Program
Mentoring can take different forms. A mentor can be a trusted friend from outside the company. But a mentor who works inside the organization has insights and connections specific to that workplace.
A mentorship program matches up mentees and mentors within a company. Then, it provides guidelines for when and how to meet. That way, everyone receives a similar level of guidance.
Why Mentorship Programs Are Important
What are the benefits of a mentorship program?
Good mentorship brings significant benefits for employees, as follows. Mentorship also brings reciprocal benefits for mentors, as we’ll discuss.
Historically, the people with the most societal privilege received the most mentoring. White men in junior positions easily developed a rapport with white men in senior positions. Meanwhile, women and people of colour got the short end of the stick.
This situation still persists today in too many workplaces. But a structured mentorship program will help ensure equal access to mentoring. In a well-run program, everyone receives a similar mentoring experience. As a result, it plays a pivotal role in increasing diversity at higher levels.
Enhancing Intrinsic Rewards
Mentorship programs help mentees tap into the intrinsic rewards of their work. Intrinsic rewards include satisfaction and enjoyment of work. With strong mentoring, they’ll both give and receive more on the job.
Mentors will also gain more intrinsic benefits from their work. Most mentors find the experience immensely rewarding.
Building Confidence and Skills
Mentees’ confidence will grow because they’ll enhance their abilities with the mentor’s guidance. They’ll become more secure in these abilities through ongoing feedback. When they voice ideas, the mentor can act as an excellent sounding board. Ultimately, this will help mentees communicate more effectively and increase their self-assurance.
In turn, mentors will highlight their leadership skills by nurturing others’ development. A mentorship program can also enhance these skills.
Opening Career Opportunities
New career opportunities may open up for mentees for several reasons. First, the mentor may introduce the mentee to other leaders. These connections can result in having more people to advocate for them. Second, the mentor may encourage the mentee to apply for positions they’d never considered.
Third, personal development through the mentorship will prepare them for success. Fourth, mentorship strengthens clarity about the path to their goals, as the Centre for Creative Leadership says in a white paper.
Mentors may have the chance to advance as a result of mentoring others. Mentoring experience can position them for promotion by revealing their leadership abilities. A mentee’s success will reflect highly on the mentor.
For mentors, mentorship can increase the chance of promotion by sixfold. And mentees themselves are five times as likely to be promoted as employees who aren’t mentored.
For all of these reasons, a formal mentorship program can be a game-changer in any employee’s career. Mentees gain confidence, knowledge, and connections. They may also gain a sponsor who will advocate for them as they seek new opportunities.
A Brief History of Mentorship Programs
Mentoring has happened in various capacities since ancient times, of course. But the modern concept of mentoring in the workplace took root in the 1970s.
By the mid-’90s, the concept had become more mainstream. However, just 1–5% of companies formally practiced mentoring, says the Association for Talent Development (ATD).
By 2008, demand was growing, and new mentoring concepts had emerged. Reverse-mentoring partnerships evolved with the growth of new technologies, ATD notes. Since then, the focus on inclusivity as a goal of mentoring has grown.
Arguably, formal mentoring was once viewed as less necessary because employees stayed at companies for much longer periods of time. Their boss was their mentor by default. Today, formal mentoring helps establish these relationships and make them more inclusive.
What Employees Want from a Workplace Mentorship Program
There’s a common myth that employees are averse to hearing feedback. But in reality, they crave it—particularly the younger generations. They simply want it to be delivered in an empathetic way. And they want to feel listened to, knowing their mentor understands their concerns.
New employees want to grasp how the organization works, for instance. They also want to grow more skilled and efficient in their role. A mentor can show them the ropes.
Those stepping into leadership positions want guidance from mentors. As they gain experience leading teams, they want regular feedback. Mentors can spell out exactly what they’re doing right and wrong.
Common Mentorship Program Challenges
“If there is a single, consistent Achilles heel in organizational mentoring structures, it is marginal mentoring,” writes HBR. “Marginal or mediocre mentoring may be a consequence of assigning mentors who are too busy, disinterested, dysfunctional, or simply lack competence in the role.”
What leads to “marginal mentoring”? Here are some key pitfalls to avoid!
Problem: Mentees (or mentors) aren’t sure who to turn to if they have an issue.
Solution: The program should have a coordinator they can reach out to.
Problem: Mentors and mentees are poorly matched.
Solution: Consider personalities and interests when matching mentors and mentees. Conduct a private interview with each of them after a month. If it doesn’t seem like a good fit, pair the mentee with someone else.
Problem: Mentors do the bare minimum, but not because they don’t care. Rather, they’re typically strapped for time.
Solution: Structure mentorship responsibilities into formal job duties. Expect mentors to block in time for mentoring into their weekly schedule.
Problem: The company relies solely on mentoring for development.
Solution: Mentoring should be one key element in your portfolio of development strategies. Couple it with training programs, stretch projects, and sponsorship.
Why A Mentorship Program Can Feel Intimidating
Designing a mentorship program can feel daunting. We think of mentorship as something that happens organically as relationships develop. “How can I tell Kathy she ought to mentor Sandra? Do they even have a rapport?” you might think. “What if they each resent being told what to do?”
But too often, those beneficial relationships never take shape without intentional planning. So, stop thinking in terms of worst-case scenarios. (“What if they can’t stand each other?” “What if they never want to mentor anyone else after this experience?”) Instead, take steps to thoughtfully plan a formal mentorship program.
How to Start A Mentorship Program
We’ve laid out 11 crucial steps to take when starting a mentorship program. From understanding problem areas to making good matches, they’ll ensure success.
Conduct a Needs Assessment
This will establish the baseline you’re starting from. As a result, it will help you establish your goals for the mentorship program. Do you need to improve diversity among leadership? Are employees in need of particular skill sets? Find out by looking at performance analytics and surveying managers and employees.
Look for Fundamental Virtues
As HBR urges, look for mentors with certain essential strengths:
- Ability to set good boundaries
These qualities are tough (though not impossible) to teach. They form the backbone of good mentorship, so start there.
Provide a Structure
All mentors should be expected to meet specific requirements. They should meet with mentees at a set frequency (e.g., once a week). This ensures all mentees receive the same level of mentorship.
Adopt a Matching Questionnaire
According to psychology professor Tammy Allen, co-author of Designing Workplace Mentoring Programs: An Evidence-Based Approach, the best programs let participants weigh in on who they’re matched with. A questionnaire can gain valuable insights on how to pair them.
Pair mentors and mentees based on their responses. The questionnaire can ask about topics like these:
- Career goals
- Areas of expertise
- Desired areas of expertise
- Learning style
- Desire to learn from people with different life experiences
Then, assess whose answers most complement each other’s.
Mentor Your Mentors
They need guidance, too. To become a mentor, ask them to commit to a routine training schedule. For example, hold training sessions once every two weeks at lunchtime.
Design rewards for mentors into your program. Training itself is one reward. Mentorship success should also influence their performance reviews, motivating them to excel. Consider having a celebratory dinner to recognize your mentors after six months as well.
Make sure you’re not unintentionally disincentivizing them, too. You don’t want them to fear the repercussions of mentees’ success. For instance, say you have an incentive-based pay structure. Ensure it rewards a large pool of top performers instead of just a few, as researchers in HBR suggest.
Attract Employees to Your Mentorship Program
Consider making participation in the program mandatory for mentees, as researchers advise in HBR. In an experiment at a call centre, universal mentoring had huge benefits. Mentored employees were more effective, successful, and loyal than un-mentored coworkers. On average, they brought in 30% more revenue.
Pair Mentors and Mentees Thoughtfully
Don’t just pair people with similar backgrounds or ethnicities. That could backfire by continuing inequities. Often a white male mentor has a certain level of political clout in an organization, Bloomberg notes. Pairing mentors of different races and genders can increase access to this political capital.
At the same time, listen to mentees’ preferences. Or, consider pairing mentees with more than one mentor. This can help ensure marginalized employees receive the support they deserve. Being matched with someone who shares their experiences can bring important benefits.
Distribute a Mentorship Program Template
A mentorship program template can steer mentors’ and mentees’ efforts. Essentially, it’s a form that helps structure their conversations. The template can include various topics they should regularly check in about:
- Goals for the quarter and year.
- Career goals and pathway toward them.
- Desired skills.
- Main challenges on the job.
The template might prompt them to record dates when they addressed specific topics. It can be a paper chart or an electronic spreadsheet.
Measure the Impact of Your Mentorship Program
Use performance management software to evaluate the impact of your program. Look at several types of data to assess results. Have mentees’ skills grown at a higher rate than prior to the mentorship? Have outcomes improved? How do employees rate their own growth and satisfaction with the mentorship?
Share Early Wins
As CCL suggests, share early wins that highlight the program’s benefits. This will increase enthusiasm for it.
Now, let’s address several ways of mentoring effectively in the modern workplace.
Mentorship Programs in Remote or Hybrid Workplaces
These three additional steps will boost success when working remotely:
- Form a cohort of mentors in training. They’ll support each other’s growth as they learn and practice new skills.
- Clarify lines of communication. Mentors and mentees can establish their own communication norms. Some might prefer one longer virtual call per week. Others might use text or email to share more frequent notes about progress as well.
- Create a virtual semi-public forum for sharing accomplishments. Recognize mentors’ and mentees’ joint achievements among their colleagues.
Finally, let’s review a few examples of successful mentorship programs!
Examples of A Good Mentorship Program
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine implemented an excellent mentorship program, HBR notes. In 2012, they launched it in response to high attrition (especially among women). In their “Master Mentor” approach, they designed incentives that led senior staff to compete for the privilege of mentoring others.
To select mentors, they looked at emotional intelligence, communication skills, and informal mentoring success. They also provided six months of skill-building workshops on mentorship.
In their work with a global services company, CCL paired up mentors and mentees in this way:
- The vice president suggested potential mentors.
- Mentors and mentees each selected goals that most resonated with them.
- CCL considered complementary knowledge of potential mentors and mentees.
- CCL looked at mentees’ desire to gain insights from people of different backgrounds.
- After being paired up, mentors and mentees approved the matches. Finally, they took part in a training session and orientation together.
McGraw-Hill Education focused mainly on goals when launching a mentorship program. As Inc. reports, participants (all women) stated their own goals. Their goals could involve anything from specific industry knowledge to attaining work-life balance. Then, the company paired them with mentors who could best support their achievement of these goals.
They met one-on-one for 1–3 hours a month for a full year.
A solid mentoring program will benefit your organization in many ways. From retention to productivity, you’ll enhance success. By properly training and selecting mentors, you’ll ensure a solid foundation. And by making the right pairings, you’ll achieve the desired results. Plus, enthusiasm for the program will continue to grow as people witness its success!
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